Archive for March, 2001

After a little too long of sitting around cursing the state of the UK rail system at the present. I decided that action should be taken. A weekend away was required. Volunteers were obtained from far & wide. Namely Fluffy & Rachel in Frankfurt & Paul & Lisa from London. Long and laborious research was undertaken to decide where we should go. Rachel said “lets go to Paris ” and so we were convinced.

A lesson had been learnt from our trip to Frankfurt. Flying on the cheapest airline in London from the airport furthest away was that you often pay for the cheapest means of travel. So we decided to go by train. And besides the chunnel sounded pretty cool. Tickets were booked.

In an effort to ensure that we got a reasonable amount of time in Paris we went for an early train. Now the problem with these early trains is that they leave very early in the morning. And that means that to catch them you have to get up even earlier in the morning. Or even just not bother to go to sleep in the first place. Because we were going to be leaving so early in the morning we decided that the most responsible idea would be to meet at Pauls place the night before. Alas Pauls place is a pub so the combination of lack of sleep and a couple of quiets ensured that details of the journey to Paris remain slightly hazy. Although it was dark, so there would not have been much to look at anyway.

Slightly more refreshed than when we departed we arrived, after managing to negotiate the Paris Metro system, we arrived at the Eiffel Tower. Here we had arranged to meet Fluffy and Rachel. And we did. So here we were, standing at the base of the icon of one of the most famous cities in the world, capital to culture and the arts. What were we to do? The obvious. Lunch.

After some discussion we identified a location that looked promising for the provision of cheap provisions. Leaving the Metro station. I must say there were a few dissenters who felt that I was on the wrong track heading into the rabbit warren of back streets. They soon saw the error of their ways. We came across a small cheap restaurant & piled in, and immediately emptied the proffered water and asked for more. But none of the legendary Parisian rudeness here. The waiter/cook was great, even overcoming such obstacles as having but one frying pan & having only one of the diners at the table speak more than a few words of French. So over a good long lunch we caught up and generally had a good time. Paris was beginning to grow on me

After lunch it was decided that the Louvre must be done. I was a little suspicious. Why a museum named after a particularly dodgy automobile accessory should be such a magnet was a little beyond me. However the alternative, shopping with Lisa (she had been there before & had xmas shopping to do) was simply too frightening. So off we wandered

Paul’s guidebook gave the advice that you should grab a map, for without one you would become hopelessly lost. We had several, in both English and German and between us enough degrees and other generic qualifications to outfit a scrabble board, but still we became horribly lost. At one point Paul decided that the only way out was to lay a trail of breadcrumbs to follow back and had gone some way before he turned around and saw that the trail extended no further back than Fluffy and myself. Without a map I am sure that we would never make it out alive, and at times I was not sure about making it out with one. The only rational explanation is that he Louvre has some little known extension of L space that results in the 3rd floor merging with the first without the assistance of the second, often in a direction which is in stark contrast to that implied by the two dimensional representation of the map

The failings of cartesian geography were the least of our worries in attempting to reach our destination. We had to face numerous trials. Being sidetracked by Mattias investigating rayguns beside the exhibits (who is to argue with a physicist about whether the mysterious machines were simply hygrometers or in fact death rays). Having to wait while Rachel attempted to decipher the cuniform script on the clay tablets (alas, she had learnt another variety). Trying to restrain ourselves while Paul claimed that he actually knew something about some of the paintings. And of course looking for Pat who had got generally distracted and wandered off somewhere else.

Despite the trials, we eventually to make it to the room to see the Mona Lisa, made the usual jokes about the cause of that smile, and remarked that she was a lot smaller than expected. This is not helped by being put in a room directly after paintings which would be better described as murals, and would have been a cast iron prick to hang straight. So then we wandered off to the Venus de Milo, where we learnt that there is substantial academic debate over exactly what she was doing with her arms. This was news to me, as I had always thought that she had originally been holding a mug, hence the Milo tag, but this it appears is not a favoured alternative. In contrast to Mona babe, Venus is quite large, and has disproportionately large feet.

Eventually we made it out, and while waiting for Lisa to finish her shopping, noticed what must be the highlight of the Louvre. A sight so stunning that I was spellbound, and will carry the picture in my mind to the grave. The handicapped lift. A stainless steel pillar silently rising from the floor in the centre of a spiral staircase. With a whooshing sound and a few flashing lights (discrete and tasteful flashing lights of course ), it could be imagined on the deck of the Enterprise. So after checking that there were no disabled people around waiting to be elevated to the exit, I wandered up to the lift displaying all of the universal signs ofa small child wanting to play on a particularly cool toy. I was greeted by the lift attendant with the universal language of being told to bugger off. It appears that the Louvre exists for higher reasons than for the enjoyment of tourists. Next time I go on crutches.

After being told to bugger off & not sit on the floor while waiting for Lisa, we decided to sit in a cafe close by. Fluffy and Rachel, who have not had their baseline of what is a reasonable price for items such as coffee shifted by living in London, balked at the prices. Paul & I, having been numbed, were about to order, when Rachel told us that the waiter had said that because they were not ordering, they had been told to bugger off. Parisians it seems are best when you are where the tourists are not.

Having had enough walking for the day we wandered off to where we had managed to score some accommodation, sleeping on the floor of a friend of Mattias’s. After having a bite to eat, we did what must be done while in Paris.

We sat in a cafe, drank coffee, philosophised, and plotted revolution. Being a group with rather wide ranging political views, we focused more on the gratifying details of who would be first against the wall (my nomination was the lift attendant at the Louvre), rather than the pesky details of political ideals.

The next day we decided that we really should go up the Eiffel Tower. I am not quite sure how this got decided, but it happened. Rather than waiting in the huge queues for the lifts, we took the stairs.

For the rest of my family and others who believe that f people had been meant to go to high places they would have been given wings, I can offer one bit of advice. If you are ever in Paris, and are tempted to go up the Eiffel Tower, don’t. I am beginning to suspect that the shrink who mentioned the whole aversion therapy thing to me was a quack (nothing personal Brenda).

One of the interesting features of the Eiffel Tower (other than the fact that they were only able to build it when they promised to tear it down in a year), is that it is a latticework construction. This means that it is very light for its height.. It also means that there are big gaps everywhere to make it quite plain just how high you are. And you are high. I suspect that it was actually designed as it was to scare the living bejesus out of anyone who was fool enough to climb those stairs. Of course this was not helped by the fact that it was a windy day, and latticework provides no protection from the buffeting of the wind. Some say that the view is spectacular, but I feel that similar results could have been achieved from a lower altitude.

After making it back down, there was only one thing to be done. Lunch. So off we headed again. Again another fine lunch, and I feel that it is my duty to report that snails are tastier than their garden variety leads people to imagine, but even less substantial.

Alas, after lunch our time in Paris was soon coming to an end, only time to wander through a very disappointing market, and trawl numerous shops on the hunt for the mighty prize of cheap booze and cigarettes.

The trip back on the train was interesting. To board in London you had to go through the whole metal detector security type thing. To board in France you got on the train. To arrive in France you walked off the train. To arrive in London there was the whole passport thing (and Paul & Lisa having to wait for those of us in the second class citizen, non-European passport queue). What this says about the two countries I am not sure. And I was awake for the Chunnel this time, and it was quite impressive. Long, dark and deep enough to make your ears go pop.